Boy gets chance for new life as marrow transplant approaches

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 25, 2012 

— A 9-year-old Merced boy will undergo a bone marrow transplant Oct. 9 after months of waiting for a match.

Nathaniel Mariano suffers from severe aplastic anemia, a bone marrow disease that prevents his body from producing blood. Cyclosporine, the only medication to treat his disease, stopped working for him, and he's suffered kidney failure.

The only way he could be cured was to find a bone marrow match. The donor is a 26-year-old male from the United States, but the family won't know more until a year from now, said Nathaniel's mother, Eva Cortinas. The family will leave Wednesday morning for UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, where Nathaniel will be admitted to prepare him for the transplant.

"I'm excited because I'm going to get better," he said.

He will be hospitalized for about 100 days, Cortinas said. On Thursday, Nathaniel will start taking four chemotherapy medications to shut down his bone marrow prior to next month's transplant, she said.

"It will take three weeks to know whether his body accepted or rejected the transplant," Eva Cortinas said. "There's only a 1 to 2 percent chance that it wouldn't work."

His father, Nicholas Cortinas, is just glad a match was found for his son. Nicholas Cortinas will stay in Merced to continue to work two jobs, and Eva Cortinas will be splitting her time between Nathaniel's room and the Koret Family Residence, a home where patients' relatives can stay that's near the hospital.

After Merced and Stanislaus counties' residents heard about Nathaniel's story, they stepped up and organized blood and bone marrow drives to help find a match for the boy. The community and the family also organized several fundraisers to help pay for costs associated with his condition.

"It's just been amazing with the support from the community," Eva Cortinas said.

Nathaniel was entered into the National Marrow Donor Program registry. Information from area residents who went to the bone marrow drives but were not a match for Mariano was entered into the registry, in the hope one of them could be a match for someone else.

As of Aug. 13, there were four matches for Mariano, his mother said. "When they told us, I still prayed and hoped."

About three out of every 1 million people in the United States will get aplastic anemia each year, according to the National Marrow Donor Program's website.

Eva Cortinas said she was glad her son has touched lives and hopes others in need of a transplant will receive the same support.

Since Nathaniel became sick in 2011, he has had to be home-schooled because he wasn't allowed to be in public. He was happy to get the opportunity for a transplant because he'll be able to go out to a lot of places. "I want to try to go around the world," he said.

If everything goes as expected with the transplant, Nathaniel can go back to school in April or next fall, Eva said. "I'm really excited for him to go back to school," she said.

There's one thing Nathaniel misses the most about school. "My friends," he said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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